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NHS lags behind in social enterprise drive

The King’s Fund has warned that a more competitive marketplace for healthcare providers presents “significant risks” for the survival of new social enterprises, despite the government’s aim of creating the largest social-enterprise sector in the world.

In a new report, the health thinktank argues that early evidence suggests new provider models provide a range of benefits for services, but that help is needed to develop the sector, including longer-term contracts to help start-ups gain a footing.

The report said healthcare providers that had adopted the social enterprise model have benefited by reducing bureaucracy, speeding up decision-making and by allowing the reinvestment of surpluses, an effective motivator for staff.

Other percieved benefits of social enterprises included increased staff engagement, but the report warned that senior managers needed to make specific efforts to engage staff from the outset because simply moving to a new operating model was not sufficient.

However, the report found that the numbers of staff leaving the NHS to set up social enterprises had not kept pace with the aim of making the NHS “the largest and most vibrant social enterprise sector in the world”.

It said that some providers reported that they lacked the right support to manage staff concerns about changes to their terms and conditions, particularly pensions.

Additionally, staff anxieties were reportedly added to by conflicting communications about the government’s health reforms.

Report author Rachael Addicott said that while the positive aspects of social enterprises were apparent, the work needed to realise the vision should not be underestimated.

“Even at this early stage in the development of the social enterprise sector, it’s apparent that patients and taxpayers could really benefit,” she said.

“However, there is still a lot of work to be done by NHS commissioners, the government, and aspiring social enterprises to turn the vision of a thriving social enterprise sector into reality.”

The latest on health and social enterprise, as reported by LGC’s sister magazine, HSJ.

Health reporting HSJ and LGC logo

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